Down Goes Brown: Jacob Markstrom’s amazing, unlikely record chase

Kyle Bukauskas spoke with Jacob Markstrom following the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday.

Late in Saturday’s game against the Maple Leafs, the Canucks watched as James van Riemsdyk tipped home a Morgan Rielly shot to cut Vancouver’s lead to 2–1.

While the Maple Leafs pressed hard over the final few minutes, the Canucks ultimately held on for the win. In terms of the outcome of the game, the goal didn’t end up mattering.

But in terms of history, it did matter. It mattered a lot.

Forget about the Canucks honouring Daniel Sedin for hitting the 1,000-point mark. That was impressive and all, but there are 87 members of that club. It’s not all that rare. Sedin isn’t even the first to accomplish the feat among people with his exact DNA sequence.

No, we’re talking about real history. Somebody who has a chance to enter truly uncharted territory.

We’re talking about Jacob Markstrom‘s shutout streak.

Or more specifically, we’re talking about his lack-of-shutout streak. Markstrom has now played 128 NHL games without one. That leaves him just four games short of matching Pokey Reddick’s all-time record for most games played in a career without recording so much as a single shutout.

When you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. Reddick’s 132-game career was played between 1986 and 1994, which largely overlaps with the highest-scoring era in NHL history. Markstrom’s streak dates back to 2010, meaning it takes place entirely during the Dead Puck Era. It shouldn’t be possible for a modern player to break a 1980s record for goaltending futility; that would be like somebody coming along today to challenge Wayne Gretzky’s scoring marks.

And that makes Markstrom’s streak an accomplishment worth recognizing, even celebrating. Preferably now, before he inevitably gets a shutout in the next few starts and ruins it.

So today, let’s take a look at Markstrom’s quest for the record from a couple of different angles. And we’ll start with the man he’s chasing.

The record-holder

Pokey Reddick was awesome.

If you were around during those days then you already know that, but it’s worth noting just in case. He was small even for his era at just five-foot-eight, meaning he had to actually move his limbs to make a save, which made him all sorts of fun to watch.

Reddick was undrafted but signed with the Jets as a free agent and made his debut during the 1986-87 season, during which he was given the traditional NHL welcome of getting trucked by Tiger Williams. He had his best season as a rookie, playing 48 games and winning 21 while posting an .881 save percentage and a 3.24 goals-against average, which were good numbers back then. He finished fourth in that year’s Vezina voting and fifth for the Calder.

Pokey (who’s real name was Eldon) would spend two more years in Winnipeg before being dealt to the Oilers in 1989. He backed up Bill Ranford during Edmonton’s 1990 title run, earning himself a Cup ring. That was pretty much it for his NHL career, as he’d play just two more games for the Oilers and then two for the Panthers during a brief comeback in 1994.

Other important things to know about Pokey Reddick: He went on to a long career in the minors, including a 12-0 IHL playoff run; he once fought Jeff Reese; and he has a younger brother who is also a goaltender and is named Smokey Reddick.

And, of course, that he made it all the way through his 132-game career without ever recording a shutout. He didn’t even come especially close, at least from 1987 on (which is where the full game logs start on hockey-reference.com). He carried a shutout into the third period in only two starts over that time, and each time it was broken up a few minutes into the period.

Shutouts were a lot harder to come by back then — from 1986 through 1990, only one goalie managed to have more than four in a single season — but most goalies would luck into a handful over the course of a career. In fact, until Markstrom came along, nobody had put up much of a challenge to Reddick’s mark.

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The contenders

The list of goaltenders who come close to Reddick’s 132 games is a short one. It’s basically just Markstrom, actually.

But it’s still worth browsing the leaderboard, if only because it surfaces some familiar names from days gone by. Like Jim Hrivnak, the former Capitals, Jets and Blues backup, whose 85 career games without a shutout put him third on the all-time list.

Then there’s former Colorado Rockie and New York Ranger Hardy Astrom, who went 83 games without a goose egg. You should recognize him as the first European goaltender to ever start an NHL game, back in 1978. Instead, you probably know him as the man Don Cherry has called the worst goaltender ever. Astrom’s struggles with Colorado helped get Cherry fired, leading him to try out a career in broadcasting. So depending on how much you enjoy Coach’s Corner, you may want to send Astrom a thank-you note.

Speaking of broadcasters, fifth spot on the all-time list belongs to Darren Pang, with 81 games. He was even smaller than Reddick, measuring five-foot-five, and was another of the era’s more entertaining goalies. He finished third in Calder voting in 1988 (two spots ahead of Brett Hull) while posting the eighth-best save percentage in the league. His career was cut short by an injury in 1990, and he’s now one of the better TV personalities working in the States.

Other names in the top 10 include Czech pioneer Jiri Crha, Original Six–era Red Wing George Gardner, and my one-time favourite player, Tim Bernhardt. (I had low standards as a kid.)

Aside from Markstrom, the highest total by a goalie who’s still active in hockey is Kevin Poulin’s 50, and he’s playing in Austria. Amazingly, if you limit it to players who are currently in the NHL, the runner-up to Markstrom is Edmonton’s Laurent Brossoit, who’s played just 22 games. Yes, Markstrom is currently over 100 games ahead of the next active NHLer on the list.

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The odds

Based on the math, it really shouldn’t be possible for goalie to do what Markstrom’s done. Most of the guys we mentioned in that last section had NHL careers that lasted three or four seasons. Markstrom has appeared in parts of eight.

And he’s been reasonably good in that time, posting a save percentage of .907. That’s below league average, but it’s certainly not terrible, and he’s been a .911 goalie since coming over to Vancouver in a trade for Roberto Luongo (who, for the record, has at least one shutout in every one of his 18 seasons).

Among the 90 goalies who have played at least 100 NHL games and posted a career save percentage of .905 or better over the last three decades, every single one other than Markstrom has at least five shutouts. Eddie Belfour had a career save percentage of .906 — slightly worse than Markstrom’s — and he finished with 76, or one every 12 games or so.

To look at it differently, Markstrom has averaged just under 28 shots against per game. That includes relief appearances, so let’s bump it up to an even 30 for a typical start. If he saves those 30 shots at his career 90.7–per cent rate, his odds of recording a shutout would be about 5.3 per cent. All else being equal, that would give him an expected shutout total of five or six on his career. Instead, he’s at zero. It’s really pretty amazing.

By contrast, Brian Boucher was a career .901 goalie, but he once posted five shutouts in a row, establishing an NHL record that still stands. And if you need any more evidence of how fickle shutouts can be, consider that the AHL shutout-streak record belongs to Matt Murray. But prior to that it was held by a guy named Barry Brust, who was five years removed from an 11-game stint in the NHL when he set the mark in 2012.

Before Murray came along, Brust’s record was nearly broken in 2014 by a Canucks prospect who didn’t allow a goal for over 238 straight minutes, the equivalent of shutting out the opposition for just short of four straight games.

That prospect? Jakob Markstrom, of course.

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The near-misses

You can’t do a piece celebrating a goalie’s lack of shutouts without looking back on the times he came agonizingly close. In Markstrom’s case, we can find 19 starts where he’s allowed just one goal, including Saturday night against the Maple Leafs.

As it turns out, van Riemsdyk’s goal at 17:08 of the third period was the second-latest goal in that group. The only time Markstrom has taken a shutout deeper into a game came back in 2012–13, when he was a member of the Panthers. On March 19 that season, a Jordan Staal power-play goal at 17:27 was his only blemish.

In his very next game after that near-miss, Markstrom had a shutout through 56 minutes before a Marian Gaborik goal ended the bid, spoiling a 44-save effort. As a Canuck, he’s had two other nights in which his only goal allowed came in the third period – against the Jets in March of 2016, and then again against the Sabres last October. He also took a shutout into the third against the Blackhawks last year, only to give up four goals the rest of the way and take the loss.

In case you’re wondering, Markstrom has pitched a shutout in relief. That’s happened nine times in appearances of varying lengths, including the bizarre game in 2015 in which he had to come in cold for a shootout after Ryan Miller got hurt, leaving Markstrom to manage the rare feat of taking the loss in a game in which he technically played zero seconds and allowed zero goals.

His longest shutout in relief came with the Panthers in 2013, when he replaced Tim Thomas seven minutes into the game and held the fort the rest of the way in an eventual 2–1 loss. He even has one career win in which he hasn’t allowed a goal, making 18 saves in the third period in a 4–2 win back in 2011. That one was actually the first win of his NHL career, which probably should have told us something.

So lots of near-misses, but so far no cigar. At this point in his career, he’s basically the Dave Stieb of NHL shutouts.

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The future

Over the next week or two, one of two things will happen. Either Markstrom will come through with that long-awaited shutout, or he’ll do the seemingly unthinkable and knock Reddick out of the record books.

Well, temporarily, at least.

That’s the catch here. The record is for most games played without ever recording a shutout, which means when — if? — Markstrom finally gets one, he’ll vacate the mark and it will return to Reddick. That leads to the question of which player holds the record for the longest streak without a shutout to start a career, or even at any point in a career. That’s a harder number to find, but there are players who’d had a longer stretch than Reddick. For example, Ed Staniowski went without a shutout in all 137 games he played for the Blues, then played 38 more for the Jets before finally recording his first against the Maple Leafs.

That’s a streak of 175 games, which is the longest I can find. But there are probably others out there. And that’s good news for Markstrom. After all, after you climb a mountain, you start your search for a higher one. If Markstrom can pass Reddick, there will be other streaks on the horizon to chase.

So look out Pokey, Ed and whoever else might be lurking in the record books. Jacob Markstrom has come here to chew bubblegum and give up a minimum of one goal against, and he’s all out of bubblegum.

(And congratulations in advance on the shutout tonight, Jacob.)